The Victorian era was a time of unprecedented wealth, technological and industrial development and affluence for the people of Britain, however the society in which the Victorian people lived was a great deal more restrictive than ours.
The rigid social strata and complex rules governing decorum meant that certain actions would result in damage to a person’s reputation, and nowhere was this more apparent than in affairs of the heart. It was unacceptable for individuals to court individuals of higher or lower social status, and any suggestion of impropriety was severely frowned upon.
Of course these restrictions did not stop people from falling in love and wishing to express it, even when that love was forbidden. The solution that Victorian jewellers found was to embed messages within their rings that allowed the lovers to express their feelings in secret.
By taking the first letter of each of the gemstones held within a ring the jeweller was able to spell out a message as an acrostic:
- Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby and Diamond spelled out REGARD
- Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire and Topaz spelled out DEAREST
- Amethyst, Diamond, Opal, Ruby and Emerald spelled out ADORE
This was the safest message to embed in a ring given to a loved one, as even if it was seen and deciphered by another it could be explained as the sentiment of a good friend. It indicated that the person giving the gift held the recipient in high regard, but could also be used as a mask for deeper feelings.
Utilising a greater number of stones, including the highly valued sapphire, this message represented a bigger investment for the person who commissioned the ring, which in itself was an indication of the strength of the giver’s feelings. Still, the message “Dearest” is not intrinsically romantic, and could still be passed off as the feelings of a dear friend or relative.
Despite being concealed like all of the messages conveyed here this was a more risqué statement to make to a secret lover, and the only message to contain an opal - a much rarer stone in the Victorian era than today. It was the closest to expressing the giver’s true feelings, but still subtle enough to avoid any negative repercussions.
As society began to evolve in the post-Victorian periods it became easier to express ones devotion to a person without fear, but the tradition of conveying a loving message through jewellery persisted in other forms. The three stones in trilogy rings are often said to be representative of the holy trinity – Father Son and Holy Spirit – or of the three most important words – I Love You.
Different materials were used to represent particular qualities – ruby for passion, diamond for purity, jet for grief – and in these ways the message was concealed more elaborately than the acrostic rings could.
Although they fell out of fashion in later eras these beautiful rings are both a memento of a bygone time, and a testament to the fact that love cannot be constrained, and will find a way to persist.
At Laurelle Antique Jewellery we often discover examples of Adore, Regard and Dearest jewellery. Why not take a look at the other marvels we have found on our travels by checking out our full inventory here.